March 10, 2016

Before You Fly: This Infographic Shows Everything You Need to Know About Drone Laws

If you operate drones, keep this infographic handy — or prepare to fork over up to $250,000 in fines.

Last summer, the quintessential 21st century neighbor feud went down. After a man sued his neighbor for shooting his drone out of the sky, a California judge ruled in favor of the drone operator, who sought $850 in reparations.

But the law isn't always on your drone's side. As of last month, the FAA instated new regulations for "unmanned aircraft systems." Among the many stipulations, flying a drone within 5 miles of an airport or over a sporting event or stadium is prohibited. Fines for breaking these laws are up to $250,000 and three years in prison. 

Thankfully, the good people over at All Digital have broken down the new drone operating laws (which vary significantly by state). If you're a drone cinematographer, keep this handy.

Drone shooting laws infographic
Credit: AllDigital

Your Comment


This isn't entirely accurate. Commercial registation of a drone (i.e. 333) meets the requirements for registration when using a drone for business. You do not need to then register your drone to an individual.

If you have a 333 or pending 333 and only fly commercially, you do not need to also register yourself to the big brother list.

March 10, 2016 at 9:28AM

Alex D

So you're saying there's no chance to fly a drone since you have to file 120 days in advance for many indie films. Geez.

Vitaly Bokser
Podcast for filmmakers:

March 10, 2016 at 12:04PM

Vitaly Bokser
Director of Photography and Podcaster

As long as your drone is under 50lbs (Phantoms, Inspires, 3DRs), you can use it commercially such as in a film or TV show. Under the new required registration you are covered for commercial use as long as you follow the standard rules. The only added guide lines is that you get permission to film and fly over private property. I.E. Releases etc.

March 10, 2016 at 9:35PM


I'm saying this is a flaw in the registration. They rushed it out without regard to the 333 program. The registration only applies to individuals, not businesses. This is a major flaw. The 333 is the only way to register a business.

March 11, 2016 at 12:11PM

Alex D

A simple printable list with sources for the info would be great, something to show idiots at the park who think you flying your quad is "creepy".

March 10, 2016 at 3:27PM

Justin Kietzman
Partner / Aerial DP of Bonafide Film House

The state laws are interesting. "Reasonable expectation of privacy." "Critical Infastructure." I guess I'll need my lawyer on hand. I'm kidding, but these are terms found and litigated in civil case law and difficult to discern when in the field.

March 10, 2016 at 10:14PM


What about UK laws?
They seem much more confusing, I'd be greatful if someone could clear them up for me

March 11, 2016 at 1:37AM


Yes it's the new big boom in cinematography, but as an R/C hobbyist first, I'd urge anyone wanting to get into the R/C explosion (drones, etc) to seriously look at and consider joining the 'Academy of Model Aeronautics' or AMA ( Though geared more toward airplanes (that's how it all started) , they are the godfather of R/C ethics, have been around 20 years longer than the FAA, and are the ones doing legal/legislative battles on the R/C community's behalf since 1936. This will include you. They have info and a code of ethics that the fed is only now trying to figure out and pull from. And the AMA stays on top of everything. imho.

March 11, 2016 at 3:08PM

Curator for Creative Engineering

I live in San Diego, within five miles of an airport, and I'd bet that almost everyone within the more populated parts of the county also live within five miles of an airport. In 30 seconds I was able to come up with a list of 11 airports, including military airfields, and there are many other small airfields for things like soaring and skydiving.

Someone, somewhere online, said that the five mile limit is for altitudes above 400 feet, but that's not what it appears to be according to this graphic, and I have a feeling the graphic is more accurate.

I know the FAA is trying to keep the airways safe, but I can also tell you that they're not keeping tabs on what their field stations are doing. I contacted the FAA office at the airport closest to me to find out what the procedure is to advise them of drone flights, and they never bothered to reply.

I can see that a lot of people are just going to ignore this. They'll see the advisory in the box or whatever, see that it's only $5, and possibly see it as nothing much more than registering a product for warranty protection.

It's a bad program, poorly implemented. (And I work for the federal government, so I know all about inefficiency.)

March 11, 2016 at 3:11PM


I live in a city in Texas that's so small that half of the town, including all the southern suburbs and the largest university in the area, are within five miles of the airport. Also, as you mentioned, there are some private airfields. iI you added those in, technically I would not be able to fly anywhere in this area. The private airfields are rarely used and we only have four commercial flights per day in and out of the main airport and they are small commuter jets. I know it's important that they are commercial jets but if we UAS operators here following the letter of the law, no one would ever fly a quad copter here. I can tell you that is not happening now. There are numerous quad copter owners flying here and three of us charge for video services. We all have web pages that promote their services but none of us have 333 exemptions yet. I'm working on it.

March 11, 2016 at 4:13PM

Dave Stanton

According to the FAA site, if you apply for a 333 exemption, they are backloged and you won't get a reply for several weeks, months probably but once you do, or if you have one already, as of March 23rd, it becomes a blanket exemption to fly for commercial purposes, again, if you quality under the guidelines, craft under 55lbs., no flying over 200', VLOS flying by pilot and not within five miles of an airport, military base, missile siloh, etc. And, the FAA site made it pretty clear you have to register your craft for ANY purpose. They want ID on our copters, no matter what we're doing with them. Perhaps I read what I read incorrectly but I read it several times and it came out the same each time to me.

March 11, 2016 at 4:01PM

Dave Stanton

You must also be a licensed pilot and have a three person team you the operator two the camera operator three a spotter.. No exceptions for commercial odor. No loopholes folks

March 11, 2016 at 5:31PM

Bernard shaw
Owner operator

That is why I like our Canadian l\aws up here better..SOMEONE in the
Canadian Department of Transport had some SENSE in them and enacted
"Just File a Flight Plan Rule". Up here 5 days to 72 hours hours before your
commercial drone/camera flight just file a flight plan with CAN-DOT with
a GPS route map of where you expect to fly (not near airports or right
over major highways!) and then advise nearby air traffic control
(call them via cell phone about one to 2 hours before just in case
your flying height interferes with commercial flight routes) with
the size and description of the drone craft and the expected
flight times (i.e. 23 hour clock time) and flying height.
(I personally always have a VHF radio to keep in touch with
air traffic control just in case some general aviation
pilot is flying his float plane or helicopter near our
area and need to warm him/her about our aerial filming!)

Here in British Columbia, for filming you MUST have business
liability insurance (a 10 million dollar policy is about $1000/year
to $2000/yr depending upon stated risks). After that you're free
to go commercial drone-wise.

In our case with VERY LARGE DRONES that are more than
300 lbs carrying 4 to 8 Canon 1Dc's, LED lights, computers,
and live video stream transfer systems we put radar reflectors
on them and an AIS system so that other craft can see us
in live view mode.

My biggest drone can fly MORE THAN 50,000 feet
(15,000 metres) high and a range of 80 km (50 miles)
non-line-of-sight so that is a different ball of wax
and we get a real licenced general aviation pilot in
and go as a real full-size aircraft.

March 13, 2016 at 7:31PM, Edited March 13, 7:33PM

Henry A. Eckstein
Director, Research and Development

For more in depth info on the commercial process as well as training, visit

March 30, 2016 at 8:33AM, Edited March 30, 8:33AM

Adam Andrews
Director of Operations

The catch to the 333 exemption is that you are required to have a licensed pilot with you when you fly. So you you want to be 100% legit and fly commercially you need the 333 and to have a pilots license (or hire a pilot to fly the drone).

The FAA is working on more reasonable regulations, but has been a bit slow in getting them out.

March 30, 2016 at 11:45AM